Feeling chills in response to music

Los Angeles, CA (December 7, 2010) Most people feel chills and shivers in response to music that thrills them, but some people feel these chills often and others feel them hardly at all. People who are particularly open to new experiences are most likely to have chills in response to music, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science (published by SAGE).

Researchers Emily Nusbaum and Paul Silvia of University of North Carolina at Greensboro asked students about how often they felt chills down their spine, got goose bumps, or felt like their hair was standing on end while listening to music. They also measured their experience with music, and five main dimensions of personality: extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Of all these dimensions, only openness to experience was related to feeling chills. People high in openness are creative, curious about many things, have active imaginations and like to play with ideas, and they much more frequently feel chills in response to music.

Why might people high in openness to experience report feeling chills more often? Surprisingly, people high in openness didn’t have chills because they tended to listen to different kinds of music. Instead, people with a lot of openness to experience were more likely to play a musical instrument themselves and they rated music as more important in their lives than people low in openness. Not surprisingly, people high in openness also spent more time listening to music.

“There are a lot of ways in which people are basically alike, but the experience of chills isn’t one of them,” said the authors. “Some people seem to have never experienced chills while listening to music — around 8% of people in our study — but other people experience chills basically every day. Findings like these are what the make the study of personality and music interesting — music is a human universal, but some people get a lot more out of it.”

The article “Shivers and Timbres: Personality and the Experience of Chills From Music” in Social Psychological and Personality Science is available free for a limited time at http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/10/07/1948550610386810.full.pdf+html.

Social Psychological and Personality Science is a cutting-edge journal of succinct reports of research in social and personality psychology. SPPS is sponsored by a consortium of the world’s leading organizations in social and personality psychology representing over 7,000 scholars on six continents worldwide. http://spps.sagepub.com

SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. Since 1965, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology, and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC. www.sagepublications.com

Contact: Paul Silvia, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina-Greensboro. [email protected]; (336) 334-5066

1 COMMENT

  1. Music and Emotions

    The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can’t convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

    An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. The experience of listening to a minor chord can be compared to the message conveyed when someone says, “No more.” If someone were to say these words slowly and quietly, they would create the impression of being sad, whereas if they were to scream it quickly and loudly, they would be come across as furious. This distinction also applies for the emotional character of a minor chord: if a minor harmony is repeated faster and at greater volume, its sad nature appears to have suddenly turned into fury.

    Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

    But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called “lead”, “leading tone” or “striving effects”. If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change – but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

    Further information is available via the free download of the e-book “Music and Emotion – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

    http://www.willimekmusic.de/music-and-emotions.pdf

    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

    http://www.eunomios.org

    Enjoy reading

    Bernd Willimek, music theorist

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